Week in Review > Week in Review 3-7-2023Posted by Thomas Perkins on March 07th, 2023
Groundwork Ohio Thursday released the latest results of a statewide survey it commissioned last month that found child care issues have been exacerbated in the last year and a half for Ohio parents.
The poll was conducted online by Public Opinion Strategies. Shannon Jones, the president and CEO of Groundwork Ohio, noted the group’s previous 2021 survey that found 40 percent of parents with children under the age of 5 had to cut back on work to care for children and nearly half of parents had serious problems with child care. She said the data shows child care is an economic issue, pointing to 60 percent of women who were surveyed and had children under the age of 5 saying that if they had access to quality child care they would return to the workforce or work more hours.
The upper chamber once again passed a K-12 education overhaul bill on Wednesday, with Senate Republicans saying the systemic changes are needed to ensure policies are effectively implemented to improve student outcomes. The Senate voted 26-7 to pass SB1 (Reineke), with all Republicans voting in favor of the legislation and all Democrats voting against it. “For too long, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has operated free from effective oversight and accountability,” Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said.
This followed action by the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, which again advanced plans to overhaul K-12 governance and relegate the State Board of Education (SBOE) to a subset of its current powers, after making a handful of changes to the legislation. Under SB1 (Reineke), ODE would be renamed as the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) and would be led by a gubernatorial appointee. The new agency would assume most duties of the SBOE and state superintendent, which would maintain oversight of teacher licensure and discipline and school district territory transfers. The new DEW would have two deputy directors, overseeing general education and career-technical education, respectively.
The House Primary and Secondary Education Committee Tuesday accepted three amendments to its own version of the overhaul of ODE and the SBOE, HB12 (Jones-Dobos). Vice Chair Sarah Fowler Arthur (R-Ashtabula) offered the amendments that were accepted, with a fourth tabled after Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Cincinnati) objected, citing Rule 93(b) regarding amendments submitted after midnight the day of the hearing.
HB11 sponsors Reps. Riordan McClain (R-Nevada) and Marilyn Johns (R-Shelby) told the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee Tuesday their “Backpack Bill” would center education funding around students, though Democratic members of the committee raised concerns about how public schools would be affected and questions on differing accountability standards at private schools.
McClain noted he supports the fair funding model, and said there are a range of reasons the “state of education in Ohio today needs change,” including large disparities between districts in spending and outcomes, high remediation rates for post-secondary students, chronic absenteeism, “cries from job creators on a capable workforce” and “tension between parents and districts over curriculum.”
He asked committee members to consider whether further testimony they hear is focused on students or “the broader system of education bureaucracy” and said the bill would create an opt-in Education Savings Account (ESA) program eligible to all students regardless of zip code or economic status. In most cases, he said, parents would still see the local public school as the best option, but it would give an alternative to those who need it.
House lawmakers vetting education funding Thursday dug into the details of literacy improvement efforts and the implications of using more recent cost data in calculating formula amounts for local schools.
Interim Superintendent Stephanie Siddens and ODE budget chief Aaron Rausch spoke and answered questions on HB33 (Edwards) for about three hours before the House Finance Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee. Their formal testimony was similar to what they presented in February to the full House Finance Committee. Committee members asked Siddens to elaborate on the concept of the “science of reading” that underlies literacy improvement efforts in the budget, including support for schools to use high-quality instructional materials aligned to those teaching methods and funding for teachers to get intensive training in them.
After overcoming attempts by the state and intervening families to get an early dismissal or ruling, school districts challenging the constitutionality of Ohio’s EdChoice scholarship program now have a 2024 trial date for their lawsuit. Backed by a large coalition of schools, five districts and a pair of families sued the state about a year ago in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, arguing that the voucher program violates constitutional guarantees of a “common” school system and prohibitions against giving control of education funding to religious sects. While the state is defending the program, Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jaiza Page has also added two groups of families who use EdChoice scholarships as parties to the case.
The judge overseeing the state’s case seeking restitution from Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) founder William Lager is assigning a magistrate to hear arguments on whether Lager’s assets should be frozen. The state has been seeking for more than four years to recover tens of millions of dollars in state payments to ECOT from Lager and affiliates, which was the largest online charter school in Ohio before folding in 2018. The state found the school couldn’t substantiate large swaths of its enrollment and ordered repayment of tens of millions of dollars. ECOT challenged that determination but ultimately lost in the Ohio Supreme Court. In an order filed earlier this month, Judge Kimberly Cocroft assigned Magistrate Elizabeta Saken to preside at a hearing on the preliminary injunction request at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, March 20.
The Controlling Board Monday approved more grant funds for a program that targets chronically absent students as well as funds to assist with economic development in Appalachian counties in Ohio. Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney (D-Cleveland) asked the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) about its request, which would direct an additional $1.16 million of federal coronavirus school relief funds to a contract with Graduation Alliance to re-engage and support students who are chronically absent or who have dropped out of school through the ENGAGE Ohio program. Aaron Rausch, chief of budget and school funding at ODE, told the panel that the funds are in addition to the $7 million that had been appropriated by budget bill 134-HB110 (Oelslager). He said the funds have come as a result of underspending in other programs, and they brought the request because the original $7 million did not meet the demand.
The Controlling Board also approved the release of nearly $7 million to 20 planning firms for the Appalachian Community Grant Program. Rep. Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) asked if there will be more grants other than the amount in the request. John Carey, director of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia, said this is the first to go to the Controlling Board as they wanted to get the first contracts out. He said they anticipate coming back before the Controlling Board for at least a portion of the $15 million allotted for the program in June.
Deliberations began Tuesday in the House Ways and Means Committee with sponsor testimony on HB1 (Mathews), the wide-ranging tax reform proposal that cuts taxes and implements a flat income tax in the process, as well as “simplifies” the state’s property taxes by decoupling them from income taxes by removing the 10 percent property tax rollback. Chief sponsor Rep. Adam Mathews (R-Lebanon) testified that he has four goals with the legislation:
– Lower the state’s income tax to 2.75 percent for all taxpayers. He maintains that “a flat tax system encourages families and businesses to move to and stay in our great state. Many of our neighboring states have moved to a flat tax, and a rate of 2.75 percent would be the lowest from here to either Tennessee or South Dakota.”
– Simplify the tax. He proposes doing this by disentangling “our property and income taxes by removing the 10 percent rollback and giving more local control over tax policy.”
– Protect homeowners by adjusting the valuation coefficient from 35 percent of appraised value to 31.5 percent “with an inflation-neutralizing factor, thereby protecting homeowners as values fluctuate. … We again keep our focus on those at the margins, bolstering our homestead protections for our seniors while also shifting our 2.5 percent reductions credit to a flat $125, benefiting smaller homes and those entering the market.”
– Shield local communities from the cuts/shift in the property tax “as we transition to a simpler and more accountable model.” Per questions, this entails using excess state dollars to shore up communities over the next one to two General Assemblies.
– Amends the Ohio Revised Code to achieve statutory consistency regarding matters of pledged collateral among state agencies.
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